March eBirder of the Month Challenge

By Team eBird 1 Mar 2015

This month’s eBirder of the month challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, focuses on waterfowl! Across much of the globe, March heralds the initial travels of ducks, geese, and swans between their winter haunts and breeding grounds. To help us learn more about the patterns of these migrations worldwide, the challenge this month involves submitting checklists with waterfowl on them. We define waterfowl as any species listed under the “Waterfowl” subheading in your eBird checklist during the submission process (families Anseranatidae and Anatidae). The eBirder of the month will be drawn from eBirders who submit at least 20 complete checklists that contain one or more species of waterfowl. Winners will be notified by the 10th of the following month.

There are 165 species of waterfowl that are currently recognized by eBird, and many of these are migrating at this time of year. Species like Northern Shoveler or Green-winged Teal will breed as far north as the Arctic Circle, and have occurred south of the equator several times. Some species of geese will move thousands of miles annually, in flocks sometimes numbering into the hundreds of thousands. Seaducks can winter in massive offshore flocks, and begin to pour north past seawatching sites at this time of year, seeking their Arctic homes. Depending on where you are in the world, there can be some truly impressive movements of waterfowl, even in places that you wouldn’t expect. Near eBird HQ here in unassuming Ithaca, NY, there are annual March flights of geese that can number around 100,000 birds passing over in several hours. In Australia, even species that remain within the country year-round can be found locally in very large numbers.

In some places these movements aren’t quite so striking, where your small town pond might have 100 Mallards on it as opposed to the usual 25, but these data on local changes are very important! For example, this winter in northeastern North America has been colder than average, with almost every body of water frozen – even the Great Lakes. As waterfowl start to move back north, many areas that have usually thawed to provide habitat may remain icebound. It will be very interesting to see what distribution patterns materialize as a result of this disruption, similar to a mid-winter freeze last year that caused a shift in White-winged Scoter and Red-necked Grebe distribution.

In Central America and the Caribbean, this is the time of year where Blue-winged Teal are staging in large numbers, from places like Nicaragua across to Cuba, where certain wetlands can have thousands of birds waiting to head north to their breeding grounds. From India through southeastern China, Bar-headed Geese are grouping up in wetlands in preparation for their long journey north. Bar-headed Goose is famous as a species for being one of the highest flying birds – it has been seen at over 21,000 feet above sea level (~6,400 masl) migrating over the Himalayas. From Africa into southern Europe, Garganey are making their initial push northwards. Some of the population crosses the Mediterranean at the western end through Morocco and the Iberian Peninsula, while further east you can see some movements through Israel and Turkey.

If you want to learn more about waterfowl identification in North America, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a selection of pre-recorded waterfowl webinars, as well as a live production available on March 26 & 27.

Many waterfowl are often quite limited by available habitat, and are therefore susceptible to disturbance, whether it be environmental or anthropogenic. By learning more about their annual movements, when they in the throes of migration, we can more effectively inform any conservation or research efforts on these species. Every one of your observations is an important piece in the puzzle of bird distribution worldwide!

Each month we will feature a new eBird challenge and set of selection criteria. The monthly winners will each receive a new ZEISS Conquest HD 8×42 binocular.

Carl Zeiss Sports Optics is a proven leader in sports optics and is the official optics sponsor for eBird. “Carl Zeiss feels strongly that by partnering with the Cornell Lab we can provide meaningful support for their ability to carry out their research, conservation, and education work around the world,” says Mike Jensen,  President of Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, North America. “The Cornell Lab is making a difference for birds, and from the highest levels of our company we’re committed to promoting birding and the Lab’s work, so there’s a great collaboration. eBird is a truly unique and synergistic portal between the Lab and birders, and we welcome the opportunity to support them both.”

Find out more:

eBirder of the Month